“Good afternoon. It is good to see everyone. Just a final discussion on Oklahoma then moving on to Western Carolina, I want to start off, first and foremost, as a head football coach, I am responsible for the losses, and I take responsibility. Everyone in our football program was extremely disappointed, and everyone in our organization needs to continue to improve and learn from the experiences that we had from not only Saturday night but to the week leading up to it in our effort and our preparation. We must continue move forward and make great strides. Although it was a tough loss, I am encouraged by the progress we are making and the positives. I will tell you this; as a caretaker of Tennessee football, I refuse to allow any negativity to creep in or around our football program. We have way too much positive going on, and we have to get some things corrected. We will work immediately to get those items corrected and continue to move forward. Just like in life, everything is how you look at it. Everything is how you perceive things.
“A year ago, we played this football team, and we were non-competitive. I believe we had minus 17 or 19 yards rushing, heading into the third quarter. With most of that team returning to a very, very good Oklahoma football team with a talented defense, we went to double overtime. We came up one play short. We were one play away from victory. Like we tell our players, two to three plays can define a game and four to six plays can define a season. I thought we had eight to 10 plays that defined this game. We really lost this game from the 40-yard line in by not taking advantage of the field position. Obviously, the fourth quarter will be a point of emphasis like it is every week.
“It’s a long season. When this journey ventured, we spoke as a football team, and as a part of the competitive nature of this football team, we will be in a lot of close games. There are going to be a lot of games that take on this personality. Moving forward, where we haven’t been competitive in the past, we are competitive now. That is progress. We are working there. We get there. We expect to win immediately. We expect to win every time we step out onto the football field. It’s a week-to-week season. We talk about a snap-and-clear mentality. We are going to learn from it. We are going to move on. We are going to prepare to play our best game against Western Carolina. We have a great group of young men, who take great pride in their performance. We have very good coaches that will put our players in positions to be successful. They have to go make the plays. Although it’s disappointing, we are moving on because I do think we made progress. I take full responsibility for Saturday night.
“Western Carolina comes in really dynamic on offense. They have a really good quarterback in [Troy Mitchell]. He manages there offense, is very athletic and can extend plays. They challenge us schematically with all of their run-pass conflicted plays. It’s going to challenge your discipline. It’s going to challenge your eye discipline. They can throw the ball, and they can run the ball. They run a spread offense up-tempo. It’s something we have faced the last couple of weeks. Defensively, they are very, very active. I think they have a very good front. I think this is a very well coached football team. We are looking to get win number two, and we are looking to be a better football team this week. That is why this week is paramount.”
(On what he saw in film after Oklahoma and competition on the right side of the O-line)
“We will continue to push competition just like we do every week. You have to earn your right to play through your practice, your body of work, your week of preparation, not just on the field but off the field. You earn the right to play. In terms of the second half, in particularly the fourth quarter, it wasn’t anything magical that they did. Everyone wants to talk about great halftime adjustments. You have a scheme, and you stick to your scheme. They are a very, very talented football program, team and defense. When you are down by 14 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, you bring more pressure. They brought more pressure than they did in the first half. I think a lot of that dictated the situation. We had situations where we had one-on-one matchups. You pause the film, and you have a great play, but one of their players makes a great play. I think that kind of snowballed a little bit. You learn from it and move on, but we have to learn how to close games out. You get a team in [overtime] at home and you go up by seven points. I thought our team showed great resiliency after all the negative things that happened in the fourth quarter, but yet, we score and go up by seven points in overtime. I think that speaks volumes about our character. But now, we have to close the game, and we were one play away from doing it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that, and we have to learn from it and move on.”
(On if Jumper is the best middle linebacker to go into SEC play with)
“Well, just like every position, it will be every group with competition. He has done some good things, but we continue to need productivity from our MIKE linebacker, and just like every week, they are going to have to compete for the position. The individual who has the best week of preparation and practice will be the one who runs out with the first unit. To me, that is healthy. You want competition. As a competitor, you want competition each and every day because that is how you grow, develop and mature.”
(On fixing the passing game)
“Last week, we talked about our pass defense. I talked about all 11 individuals working together as one. The throwing game is exactly the same. It starts upfront with pass protection. It starts at the running back position as well as the tight end position, and then out on the perimeter, being able to beat man-to-man coverage and tight coverage and creating separation. Those are all things that go into being a very efficient throwing team. We had too many drops and too many drops at critical moments in the game. That is all what it takes to play winning football. The disappointing thing is the penalties. That was the most penalized we have been since we have been here. We had 10. That is inexcusable. I believe we had three that extended drives, particularly in the fourth quarter. We can’t allow that to happen. We had pre-snap penalties. When you play a good football team like Oklahoma, everything you do is magnified from your technique to your details to your fundamentals. You get exposed a little bit. We talk about playing winning football. Winning is fragile, and we can’t be a team that beats itself. We had way too many negative yardage football plays. We got the ball down on the 28-yard line in the fourth quarter on first down, and we lost 12 yards off the bat. Every offense is going to struggle from that. We had way too many negative yardage plays and pre-snap penalties.”
(On Maggitt’s status)
“Curt Maggitt, right now, has a hip injury. He will be out for an extended period of time. I still don’t know to the extent of how long it will be. He is in the process of going through the evaluation process. I should know a little bit more by the end of the week, but he will be out for an indefinite period of time. It’s just a true freak injury. It’s probably the freakish injury that I have ever been a part of. We were in punt safe, and he went to avoid a guy and hurt his hip. That is unfortunate, and we all know what Curt means to us, not only from a leader standpoint and a character standpoint but from a productivity standpoint as well. I will know a little more on his status as the week moves forward. LaDarrell McNeil has been cleared to play, so he will be back to full-go in practice today. It will be great to have him back. The other injuries of players who had to sit out last week of Max Arnold and Ralph David Abernathy IV will also be out this week.”
(On Oklahoma bringing more pressure to one side of the defensive line)
“It was a combination. It wasn’t anything that they hadn’t done in the first half. It was more the volume of it. Sometimes it was D and D, down and distance predicated [it], sometimes hash, and sometimes one side more than the other. We’ll continue to work more on that part of it.”
(On who will step up in the absence of Curt Maggitt)
“Kyle Phillips will have a great opportunity this week in practice and preparation to get game-ready, so we’ll get him going. And then, it’ll be pretty much everyone else in that position group. I did think Shy Tuttle, playing really his first extensive period of downs in a very meaningful game and a hard-fought game, I really, really like what he brought to the table. His playing time will increase at D-tackle. I thought Kahlil McKenzie did some very good things too, this being his first real live-game action. I think both of those individuals, in terms of their volume of repetitions, will continue to increase.
“We need that. We had defensive linemen taking 85, 90 snaps. That is unheard of in a football game, so there has to be a great sense of urgency from everyone else in our program to have a great week of practice, so we can build that depth that we talked about when the season started.”
(On addressing Eric Strike after the game)
“First of all, I think that’s overblown, and the Oklahoma game is over with. I have a tremendous of respect for Eric Striker. I think he’s one of the best football players in all of college football, and he plays on great emotion. It was a compliment to him. I don’t know where any negativity came from that. I told him he’s a heck of a player and [to] leave this place with class. To me, I would respect that if an opposing coach said that to our players. That’s wanting to respect your opponent. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Eric Striker and Coach Stoops and the Oklahoma football program.”
(On Josh Smith’s strengths as a receiver)
“Josh Smith defines resiliency. He’s been banged up. He’s been hurt. He just continues to battle. He’s very, very quick, very, very competitive, and he wants the football. He made some difficult catches, and I thought he did a very good job of running after the catch once he caught the passes. I know our quarterbacks trust him, and he’s one of those individuals that’s very competitive. He has great competitive character, but he’s very consistent. He understands our offense and he wants to compete, so his character and everything that he stands for gives him an opportunity each and every week.”
(On the state of the SEC for the rest of the season)
“I don’t think anything’s changed. Like I said prior to answering questions, football’s a week-to-week season. The teams that can manage the natural adversities that a long football season brings about are the ones that go to bowl games and win championships. Everyone wants to push that red panic button across the country when something happens with their team. I think we found out Bowling Green’s a pretty darn good football team. Again, it’s keeping everything in check, staying focused, and just working to be better each and every day, each and every week.
“Winning in college football is hard. Half the teams lose every single week. It’s one of the most competitive industries in sport. It’s one of the most competitive venues in all of sport. You have to keep things in perspective, and you have to just keep grinding. We’ll stick to those ingredients and we’ll work to be a better football team.”
(On how the defense improved from Week 1 to Week 2)
“I thought they improved greatly from Week 1 to Week 2. When you look at the competitive aspect of your opponent across the board, Oklahoma’s a really good football team. I thought we got back to our style of play. [Todd Kelly Jr.] helped us with taking the ball away with two interceptions. We need to still generate some more turnovers, particularly some balls on the ground. I thought they gave great effort. I thought our technique [was great.] I thought our overall eye-discipline improved.
“We did have some breakdowns, in terms of, `You can’t let the quarterback escape the pocket,’ like he did. He was able to extend plays and it hurts us. We had a couple defenders come out of coverage a couple times. Again, if you take away the penalties, we don’t give them three critical third down conversions with penalties. I thought our defense really gave us an opportunity to win the football game. I thought they performed very, very well. They gave great effort, and again, they got back to our style of play and our Orange Swarm that we talk about. Now we need to continue to grow and elevate that this week.”
(On the status of Alvin Kamara)
“Alvin’s healthy, and we would have liked to give him the ball more. We had some designed throws to get him the football, not only in the run game but in the passing game as well. Sometimes, the defensive front or the pressure looks dictated whether or not he was getting the football. Every game has a storyline in and of itself. It has a different flavor, and Jalen [Hurd] was running the ball well. He was running behind his pads, and it was kind of his style of game.
“Alvin’s very, very important to our offense as we all know, and to Alvin’s credit, [he had] not one mention about it. It’s all about the team. He was the first one to greet Jalen [Hurd] on his touchdown run in overtime. That’s him, he’s selfless. Everything’s about the team, but we will have more plays for him. It was a little bit of the defenses that we were seeing, having to get out of some looks, and just the temperament of game as well.”
(On Todd Kelly Jr.’s success)
“It was great to see. That was needed. TK gave us a great lift with the two interceptions. Again, it’s just consistency and performance with him. It’s important to him. He works very hard, and we needed that. I think having him back–we really benefitted from that.”
(On status of Danny O’Brien)
“As of right now, there is no change. As soon as something does happen, we will notify you. But, as of right now, it is pretty much the same situation as it was last week.”
(On choosing Kamara over Hurd on the first-quarter possession near the goal line)
“Jalen Hurd had a few carries, so he was winded. Alvin went into the game, and we have great confidence in Alvin like we do Jalen. It was supposed to be a designed cutback play, which fits Alvin’s style a little bit more. We just have to do a better job of winning the point of attack. It was a combination of a couple things. No matter which of those two backs are in, I have great confidence that they are going to get that one yard.”
(On Todd Kelly Jr.’s health, impact on defense)
“First of all, TK brings a level of stability and intelligence in getting us lined up. TK has great instincts, understands the defense and what we are trying to accomplish. It’s important to him. He invests a lot of time, effort and energy into preparing himself for the games. He just brings a comfort level, and he is a good football player. He is always around the football, and that is all instincts. His football instincts kick in. In terms of injury, he is fine. He will be at practice today. We don’t see any affects from Saturday.”
(On communication with Big 12 office regarding officiating)
“We don’t have any communication with the Big 12 office. We still do the typical set of criteria that we have every week, but we still submit the plays. I don’t ever think an officiating call costs you or wins you a football game. I think you have to decide it between the lines. I will just tell you that it was disappointing.”
(On more difficult task: bouncing back from emotional win or loss)
“I think the team dictates it. The maturity of a football team dictates it. You can never let your previous opponent beat you twice, and that is the maturity of a football team, the leadership of a football team. We have to learn and continue to move on. Each football team is different. I have been around ones that when they had an emotional loss, they would bounce back and play their best game. I have been around teams that struggled, and vice versa–coming off a big emotional win as well. This is where you have to rely on the competitive structure of your program and the character of your program. I know our kids are ready to get back at it. I have spoken with most of them, and they are eager and ready to go. They are ready to put all eyes on Western Carolina. Western Carolina is the most important game because it is the next game. That is kind of the program philosophy. That is why I don’t ever believe in putting too much stock in one particular game. They all count as one. As we all know, it’s hard to win in college football. You never take winning for granted.”
(On receivers being unable to win matchups)
“It isn’t just on the receivers. There are a number of things that go into it. When we do get press coverage, we need to make sure we are able to defeat it whether vertical or crossing route. I think it’s a combination. We had guys open, and the protection would break down. We had protection, and something happened in the back end. That is why it’s a team game. It takes all 11 individuals working as one. Power of the unit. We talk about being nine strong, nine positions strong and three units strong in offense, defense and special teams. They are a talented group that we faced. They are going to have their share of success, too, because of their talent. Mike [Stoops] does a great job in terms of some schemes, and they have confidence in winning their one-on-one matchups just like we do. We’re going to get a lot more one-on-one matchups as the season progresses. We know that. But, we have a very good core of wide receivers. They work very hard at it, and I know we’ll do a much better job.”
(On choosing to kick a field goal near the goal line in the first quarter)
“If I would have went for it and we didn’t get it, you’d be asking me the opposite question. Why didn’t you kick the field goal? That’s what makes it a great game. We knew going into the game that we needed points. Points were at a premium. We needed momentum, confidence. This is a defense that we didn’t have much success with the previous year. We drove the ball down. We felt we needed to get points. We do everything based on analytics, so nothing is taken by chance. Probably about four or five hours went into that single decision. You look at it–if you get it, that’s great, but if you don’t get it, now the momentum [flips]. Football is a game of momentum, and Oklahoma established the momentum game in the fourth quarter. We had the momentum early. You are responsible for creating your own momentum. I just felt at that early juncture of the game that you come away with points. If you make one play in the fourth quarter, that looks to be a good decision. You can always second guess, but I don’t second guess because a lot of diligence and effort went into that decision.”
(On confidence level with field goal kicking)
“First of all, Aaron [Medley] works very hard. I have the utmost confidence in our kicking unit. I believe in him as does everyone in our football family. It was still a very, very long field goal, so your percentages of making those, it’s 60%, 50-50. I thought Aaron did an outstanding job on his kickoffs. You talk about improvements from week one to week two. I thought that he did a very good job there. I think a lot is dictated on the length of the field goal. Again, that was a difficult field goal, he will make those, he will get better, but we stand behind him and I have the ultimate faith and trust in him.”
(On team being tested first two weeks)
“I appreciate you bringing that up. I think that helps us, that helps us tremendously. We’ve played some good football teams, two very, very good football teams. You’re exactly right, both are going to challenge to win their conferences. We’re coming out of the gates, now it’s being a healthy football team. It’s learning from our experiences whether positive or negative and continuing to build upon that. I think it’s challenged us right out of the gate. We’ve had no quote, unquote tune-up game. Every game has been very, very challenging, very difficult. I expect Western Carolina to come in here and expect to win the football game. I think we saw around college football again, if you just look at this past week you never take winning for granted. Anything and everything can happen. I do, I think it is very healthy for our football team. These two teams are very good.”
(On play calling potentially being too conservative)
“We did what we needed to do. Obviously, you start first and foremost with yourself. Just like anything the power of why, what can you do to be better, could we have done this, could we have done that. But also, I don’t want to say desperation defense, but when you get to the fourth quarter you are trying to generate turnovers, trying to create pressure and they did an outstanding job, and they won some matchups. But when you look at it, I though it’s everything about trying to put your players in the right positions. Is there one or two plays you always second guess or you look back and say could you have done this? Yes. Just like everyone else, do you try for seven points like Seth brought up or do you go for three? That was the right thing to do in our minds, and we executed and got three points out of it. We had a 14 point lead going into the fourth quarter. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. We just have to work to get better, execution and all that, and being able to handle the pressure looks and have confidence in your training. If you have two individuals outside of you that the first guy in is going to spike and you understand that, you’re not caught up in the moment and you’re able to take it down, then you kick out. When you play man coverage there’s no second line of defense. If you break through it’s a home run its all or nothing. We have to do a better job from a play-calling standpoint but also from a technical and an execution standpoint when we get man coverage and we get pressure looks.”
(On balancing player’s passion on the field and emotions after)
“I can’t comment on that particular situation because I didn’t see it. I’m worried about Western Carolina. It’s an emotional game. These young men invest a lot in this game; the ebbs and flows of a game, the momentum swings, the emotional swings and all that; sometimes it’s a challenge to keep that all in check. Not just for the players but everyone involved because you invest so much. You put every effort that you have not only for the game standpoint, but in your preparation. But we talk to our players a lot about what it is to represent the University of Tennessee; and all I can tell you is what we talk about. What you represent on a daily basis; you represent the University of Tennessee and the class that comes along with it. Just like every program does, but you’re dealing with 17-22,23 year old individuals that have a lot of emotion, that invest a lot. All I can speak on with us is we haven’t had those problems, and if we do I would want you to tell me about them so we can get them corrected.”